"Meanwhile, standing near the cross of Jesus were his mother, and his mother’s sister, Mary..." + John 19:25
“There, there… There, there… It’s okay.” She held and patted my hand with hers, pressing her old, wrinkled, translucent skin against mine.
“There, there…” She patted my hand without taking her eyes off the preacher. She felt around in her purse for a handkerchief, embroidered with flowers, and pressed it into my hand. I wondered what she thought of this visitor sitting beside her, crying persistently throughout the Good Friday service. She didn’t seem distracted or bothered, as though it were perfectly natural for a stranger to sit down next to her on the pew and weep for an hour.
Every few minutes she patted my hand. “There, there... It's okay.”
I don’t remember what brought on the tears, just that they wouldn’t stop, a year’s worth, bottled up since last Good Friday.
In part, the tears were offered for the war in Iraq. That year, Holy Week and the first anniversary of the war collided. In part, the tears flowed for my failings as a parent: the harsh words, the sky-high expectations. Some were for my friend, pastoring this faithful flock in a forgotten part of the city. There was a time when they’d have seven hundred on a good Sunday; now seventy was an “Easter crowd.”
So I cried on that Good Friday for all that was lost and broken, as my friend preached and prayed, peeling away the layers that protect me most days.
Our layers give way during Holy Week, especially on Good Friday. If you are ever going to let yourself feel what we’ve done to the earth and to one another; if you’re ever going to let yourself feel for the Iraqi family who woke up, joyful and expectant, on their daughter’s wedding day, only to have it all blown away, it’s on Good Friday.
And so I cried. All the while, the elderly woman patted my hand as if I were Jesus himself hanging on the cross, and she was one of the women sent to care for me.
Love of our life, what can we say on the day you were betrayed, abandoned, and left to die? We who make war on those we love and those we will never meet? What can we say but, "Christ have mercy, Lord have mercy." On the upcoming day of shadows and pain, take our hands in yours and whisper into our ears, "There, there... It's okay!" Amen.